Designing apparel that allows them to feel comfortable and confident is my way of giving back to the world.”
Martha Moore, FSAD '82
One of Martha Moore’s FSAD ’82 shining moments last year occurred when a wear-tester for Nike’s new Victory Swim Collection came out of the locker room with tears of joy streaming down her face, jumped in the pool, swam 20 laps and climbed back out, still beaming.
The collection – which includes a full-coverage swimsuit as well as tights, a tunic and a hijab that are available as swim separates – is Nike’s first foray into swimwear for women who want to cover their bodies. While modest swimwear has been around for more than a decade, Nike set out to build better modest swimwear with an eye to comfort and performance technology lacking in other designs.
“For me, this project has meant touching the world in a new way and changing the world for women and sport,” she said. “Modest women have essentially been swimming in a dress over pants, which becomes heavy when wet and takes a long time to dry. We saw the opportunity to make something better.”
Moore has worked as a designer at Nike for 30 years, where she helped to pioneer women-specific athletic apparel. She has designed countless garments and uniforms for athletes, including the U.S. Women’s National Team’s soccer uniforms for the 1999 World Cup.
Building on the insights of the Nike Pro Hijab, Moore’s design team first developed the idea for the Victory Swim Collection on a research trip to southeast Asia several years ago, where they noticed how many moms in hijabs watched from the side while their children played in the water.
“We saw women not being able to participate in the sport of swimming because of their cultural values,” Moore said. “It seemed so unusual for us and sad. Swimming is really a lifelong sport, and one that anyone should be able to participate in.”
The Victory Swim Collection is full of innovations that makes swimming in long pants, long sleeves and a hijab more comfortable. Moore and her team started with the fabric, a breathable, chlorine-resistant blend that stretches in four directions and is quick to dry.
Initially, Moore expected the collection would fit like a wet suit, but wear-testers explained the suit could not be formfitting – it had to stand off the body. The hijab is carefully tailored around the face and neck to allow swimmers to easily turn their heads to breathe and it has a built-in pocket to hold back long hair.
To reduce drag through the water, Moore turned to aquatic animals. “We studied sharks, and how water flows right through their gill system,” she said. “That led us to create vents in the suit with mesh liners underneath, which allow water to flow through the garments.” The swim tunic includes an embedded sports bra, with water-draining perforated cups, that is iridescent and luminous to help its wearers feel beautiful.
Moore and her team centered the design research for the Victory Swim Collection with one community in mind. But since it launched in February, she has heard from others who appreciate the suit, including a skin cancer survivor who wears it to the beach and enjoys its UPF 40+ rating, and a paddleboarder, who uses it for warmth and comfort.
Moore grew up in upstate New York with parents who were both physical education teachers; among her early memories are annual trips to the U.S. Open Tennis matches. Now a Nike Creative Director, VP, she knew from a very young age that she wanted to design athletic apparel for women.
“I clearly remember when I was eight years old thinking I could design a better tennis dress for Chris Evert than what she was wearing,” Moore said. She learned to sew, took drawing classes in high school, and applied to the best design schools in the country. She chose Cornell, she said, because the program looked at apparel design through the lens of problem-solving.
“Our classes really focused on, what is the human need in this situation, and we design for that,” she said. “I remember my senior project was designing clothing for children in wheelchairs. I always knew the idea was to start with solving a problem, and then make it beautiful because ‘form follows function’ always wins. That’s how we design at Nike too.”
“I look at my daughters and my nieces and women and girls everywhere, and I think they deserve to do whatever they want to do,” she said. “Designing apparel that allows them to feel comfortable and confident is my way of giving back to the world.”